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How to Test and Keep Your Balance When Wading, with Scott Ducharme

Description: Scott [41:18] is an assistant professor of motor control and learning at Long Beach University, as well as a fly fisher and podcast listener. He has a small number of quick tests you can do at home to check your balance, and then simple exercises you can do at home without any special equipment to improve your balance in a matter of weeks. Wading safely and comfortably on a river involves both balance and confidence, and what you learn here will give you help with both. You'll enjoy your time on the water more.
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Hi, and welcome to the "Orvis Fly Fishing" podcast. This is your host, Tom Rosenbauer. And my guest this week for the podcast is Scott Ducharme. And Scott is an Assistant Professor in Motor Control and Learning at Long Beach University. Scott's also a fly fisher.
And Scott [00:00:30] reached out to me because he had some interesting thoughts about wading and balance and safety. And we've been on a little bit of a wading safety kick past podcast or two. And I wanted to delve into it just a little bit further. Scott has some excellent ways of easily both testing your balance before you go out and wade a trout stream or stand [00:01:00] on a flatboat in a rocking boat, or testing your balance, and then some drills that you can do to help your balance. And according to Scott, you can improve your balance in a matter of weeks by using these exercises. So I think it's something that we can all benefit from. And I hope you enjoy the podcast with Scott.
But before we get to Scott, let's do the Fly Box. And the Fly Box is where you ask me [00:01:30] questions or you share tips with other listeners. And if you have questions from the Fly Box, you can send them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. You can either just type your question into your email, or you can attach a voice file and ask your question there and I might read it on the air if I can help you.
So without further ado, let's start the Fly Box. And the first [00:02:00] is an email from John. Thank you for the excellent podcast with Ralph Cutter on wading safety. I learned a great deal from it, including exploiting some long-held ideas. Let me start by saying that I've done my share of swimming while fishing trout streams, including a very scary outside bend on the bow in Alberta, headed towards a tangle of sweepers. Now that I'm on the backside of 70, I have taken to wearing an automatically inflatable over-the-head collar [00:02:30] PFD.
In your discussion with Ralph about these devices, he suggested, or close to suggested, not wearing them because they preclude swimming on your stomach to safety. While that is undoubtedly true, most trout fishers do not tangle with major whitewater rivers all that often. When I fall in, I stagger to my feet, shake off the water, and look around to make sure nobody witnessed my pirouette complete with aria. My view is that my greatest risk is falling and hitting my [00:03:00] head, knocking myself unconscious, and then drowning in 10 inches of water. That is not likely to happen, or is less likely to happen, with an automatic PFD. Well, that's a good point, John. And if you are fishing deep water but slower water and don't have to worry about being washed away, then a PFD is probably a great idea.
Rob: Hey, Tom. This is Rob from Maine, and I have a question [00:03:30] about making short roll casts. Just for some context, these are short casts on small streams. They're usually a little fly line out, maybe 12 feet at the max, but usually more like 6 to 8 beyond the tip of the rod, 2 to 3 weight line, and these are short rods, 6.5 to 7.5-foot, with leader and tippet generally close to the length of the rod.
[00:04:00] And I do use furled leaders, which I'm wondering is maybe a component here. And then flies maybe in the 12 to 18 range, and at the absolute most, I'm going to have a small yarn indicator with a bead head and maybe a tiny split shot, but usually not. And the thing I'm trying to work out is the presentation of the roll cast. [00:04:30] A lot of the time, the cast starts out nicely, but then right at the end when the fly should turn over nice and tight, instead it kind of turns over with this arcing parabolic motion, kind of like a hammer coming down on a nail. It's not nice. And so I'm just wondering what might cause that.
I know that a big contributing factor is going to be my [00:05:00] casting motion, which you can't see, but I can say that I've experimented quite a bit with how I make the cast, and I've consumed quite a bit of media on just proper roll casting form, but I really haven't solved the problem. And I'm suspecting that maybe it's an issue with my setup, maybe it's a limitation with my setup. So I'd love to know what you think. [00:05:30] Any ideas on what might be contributing to a lousy roll cast turnover? Thanks so much. I really appreciate you, and I hope your spring is kicking off nicely.
Tom: So Rob, first of all, short rods don't roll cast as well as longer rods. So you said you have rods from 6.5 to 7.5 feet. If you're going to roll cast a lot, I would try to take the longer rod if possible. [00:06:00] And two or three weight lines also don't roll cast that well. They just don't have a lot of mass to bend the rod and to do a roll cast. You might want to try overlining your rod. That's going to bend the rod a little bit more. It's going to bring out the action of the rod at those really short roll casts and may help you.
However, I think that your problem doesn't so much have to do with the rod or with your casting [00:06:30] motion. I think your problem comes from all that stuff you have on the end of your leader. And you say you use a short leader, the length of the rod, and that's good. But, you know, roll casting at that distance is going to be difficult anyway. There's not much you can do about it.
And when you have a bead head and a yarn indicator and maybe weight on your leader, you've got a couple things going on at the end of that [00:07:00] roll cast. One is you've got some air resistance from the yarn indicator and the other one is you've got some weight that's going to clunk down from that bead head and/or shot that you have on your leader. So with that rig, I don't think you're ever going to get a really great roll cast. I don't think it's your problem. I think it's the rig you're using.
I think if you try that same roll cast with just a dry fly or maybe with a [00:07:30] small soft tackle, you're going to see it straighten out pretty well. So if you're going to use that other stuff, just know that it's just not going to be pretty and it's not going to straighten that well for you. It should get out there okay and should fish okay for you.
All right. Here are a couple of helpful tips from two different listeners. It kind of said the same thing, but in [00:08:00] a little bit different way. So I want to read both of them because I think they're both very helpful. First one is from Josh. I enjoyed your recent podcast on "How Trout See" with Jason Randall. During that discussion, Jason mentioned that he often got his information from primary scientific literature, and you both agreed that for non-academics, access to that material was often difficult to access.
As an academic, I have a lot of experience publishing, not on trout, unfortunately, and there is a [00:08:30] workaround you and your listeners might try to gain access to specific articles of interest. Without a subscription or institutional license, most of these articles will require a fee. The tip is that you can often get the article directly from the author. To do this, do a Google search and find the email address of the senior or corresponding author that is listed, typically the last author. Send them an email explaining you have interest in their work [00:09:00] and would like an electronic reprint of the article. Authors generally keep all of their reprints and are happy to share. This doesn't always work, but most often it does. I get requests all the time, mostly from people in companies and other countries that may not have access to the various journals, and I am happy to send them a PDF of the requested paper.
And here's a second one along the same line, but gives another tip. This one's from Barrett. [00:09:30] I heard the question from a listener on the last podcast about how to access the scientific literature. As a biologist who was also an avid fly angler, I appreciate your response and wanted to add a couple points. If the paper has been published recently, I recommend looking for the corresponding author. This person's email will always be listed and one can simply send them a request for the article.
As biologists, when we publish papers, 100% of that charge to access an [00:10:00] article goes to the publisher, none of it goes to the researcher. In fact, in most cases, the author actually has to pay fees per page to have our work published. But if you send us an email, we can send you a PDF directly for free and are generally very happy to do so. I have sent my papers to many people this way and have received many in return from other researchers without spending a penny.
Another resource to mention is the Directory of Open Access [00:10:30] Journals, This is a compendium of journals whose content is 100% free to access for anyone. There are about 10 million papers in these journals on every topic imaginable. I hope this might help some of your listeners interested in diving a little deeper into the scientific literature. Thanks for all you do for the sport. Podcast has helped my fishing tremendously and I hope these tips might help others.
[00:11:00] Well, thank you both to Barrett and to Josh for those suggestions because those are great. And I hope those are helpful for some of you who want to dig a little deeper into some of these scientific papers.
Here's an email from Alex from Australia. I have a tip for Andrew, the April 15th podcast, for tying a dropper to a hook bend. Basically, I tie a loose clinch knot onto my [00:11:30] finger and transfer it to the hook. I like this method because it's far easier and quicker to add the turns and the line never slips off the hook bend while doing so. For a right-hander, one, loop the end of the tippet over your left index finger, hold the tag end and standing end in your right hand. Two, spin your left index finger around half a dozen times. Three, pass the tag end back through the loop that is around your left index [00:12:00] finger.
At this point, you should have an unclinched clinch knot around your left index finger. Number four, transfer the loop from your left index finger to the hook. Cinch tight. I've been fishing for 40-plus years. I never liked tying on droppers until I came up with this method a few years ago. I could even tie one without glasses. Thank you, Alex. The same tip came from another listener. That's a great tip and I know it'll [00:12:30] be helpful to a lot of people. Thank you.
Chris: Hey, Tom. Chris here from Louisville, Colorado. I got a question for you. I was out fishing on the South Platte, had a little BWO hatch. I was using a high-viz parachute that I tied that's nice to use as an indicator and then trailing a little 24 BWO spinner, blue poly yarn wings. We were doing good, getting some good hits on dry flies. It was a lot of fun.
[00:13:00] Anyway, I kept on having to reapply floatant. And it got me thinking, "Should I be kind of pre-treating my dry flies right after I tie them? Is there a benefit to getting that floatant on, letting it "soak in?" Does it have an added benefit for flotation?" If you have any advice on that question, hopefully, you haven't had it before, [00:13:30] but I would love to hear about the type of floatant you would use, maybe material considerations, those types of things. Anyway, thanks for all that you do. Really appreciate it. Take care, man.
Tom: Chris, you know, there have been some products out for years that are pre-treatment for dry flies. I've used it occasionally, but honestly, it's not something I do. [00:14:00] I don't know, I guess I'm lazy. It may work, but I think that no matter how you treat your flies, they're going to start to sink. They're going to absorb water eventually. They're going to get slimed up by the fish and you're going to have to retreat them at some point. I'm not sure how effective pre-treating them is.
If you do pre-treat your flies, don't bother doing it with a paste or a gel [00:14:30] floatant because that isn't going to do you any good. That's just as good the day you're fishing as it is the night before. The products that you want to try pre-treating are the ones that have a liquid solvent that are very liquid or a spray. There aren't many sprays left anymore. Most of them you dip into a bottle. These things have solvents in them that dry very quickly, within a matter of seconds after a couple [00:15:00] of false casts. I don't know how much pre-treating them is going to help, but it's worth a try. Just don't try it with paste or gel.
Another thing is, a lot of you know this already, but you don't want to use paste or gel on a dry that's already gotten wet because it just won't work very well. You put a paste or gel on a fly that's completely dry. You can do it the night before if you want, but it's not going to do you any good. And then [00:15:30] once your fly gets slimed by a fish or it's not floating as well, then either you can use a liquid to re-treat it. The solvent and the liquid will draw the water out of the fly and then it will leave a film of silicone or whatever on the outside of the fly. Or you can use a desiccant powder of some type, either the coarser stuff or the powder. Either one will work to re-treat a fly.
[00:16:00] All right. Another email. This one's from Harry. I apologize if this has been answered in a previous podcast, but I have a question regarding water quality. Most of the rivers in my local area have some form of sewage treatment discharge. I have accepted the fact that most of the water is probably not the cleanest, but as a rule of thumb, is it cleaner to wade a river above or below wastewater treatment discharge? Is the water truly cleaner? Should I not be too [00:16:30] concerned if there is no active pollution warning?
Well, Harry, there's a number of things that can be said about sewage treatment plants. One is that the water that comes out of a sewage treatment plant can often be cleaner than the water in a river if there's pathogens in the water or in the river, in other words, bacteria [00:17:00] and other pathogens. Currently, in most waste treatment plants, they don't remove things like pharmaceuticals and chemicals from the water. It really depends on the type of sewage treatment plant and what kind of process they use.
In the old days, sewage treatment plants used to basically [00:17:30] remove the big particles and didn't do much to remove the nutrients from the water. These days, they remove a lot of the nutrients as well. But there's still going to be some excess nutrients in the water. Actually, there can be very good fishing below sewage treatment plants. I know this is not very pleasant to think about to some people, but there's generally [00:18:00] going to be a better insect population below a sewage treatment plant unless they're accidentally discharging some chlorine or other disinfectant into the water. The added nutrients that go into the water, particularly in older sewage treatment plants that aren't really up to the modern tertiary plants, can actually put a lot of nutrients in the water and the fishing can be quite good below these sewage treatment plants.
[00:18:30] But if you're worried about cleanliness, in general, I would think you want to stay above the outflow of sewage treatment plant because, again, you don't know what they're removing from the water and what's left in the water after it's treated. Of course, it also depends on the cleanliness of the water above the sewage treatment plant in the main course of the river. I can't give you a definite answer on [00:19:00] that, but perhaps an investigation on what kind of treatment is done in a particular sewage treatment plant. You can probably find that as part of the public record. I will let you know how clean that water is coming out of the plant.
Here's an email from Nick. I'm writing about my catch of a lifetime on the new Helios D. Having learned about Orvis's Helios sweepstakes, I was thrilled for the chance to win a trip to Vermont [00:19:30] and a new Helios rod. I rushed down to my local store to make my entry and try the new Helios. A helpful Orvis sales associate by my side, I was utterly in the zone casting this phenomenal fly rod, tight, controlled, laser-accurate loops unfurled before me. It was effortless. I was ready to film a river runs through it too when the realization that I'd hooked up woke me from my reverie. The reel sang.
In a heartbeat for the first time in 50 years of fly fishing, [00:20:00] I was deep into the backing with no sign of this incredible run slowing. There was nothing I could do but hold on. But the reel arbor was soon in sight. I was spooled and then broken off. My Quarry, an SUV that I would conservatively estimate at 3,000 pounds, proceeded unperturbed down the alleyway behind your Wilmette, Illinois store. The Helios Clearwater reel and line all weathered this epic battle without a scratch. [00:20:30] The Arbor and the Albright knots Orvis Wilmette staff expertly tied held my long-distance release was at the leader. Kudos to Orvis on yet another real-life example of Orvis quality. That's a great story, Nick. Thank you very much for that.
And for those of you who aren't aware of it, there is a sweepstakes currently going on from now till I think the end of July, where if you go into Orvis store or dealer and test cast [00:21:00] one of the new Helios rods, you will be entered for a chance to win a grand prize, which is an all-expense paid trip to Vermont, a one-day fishing school, tour of the rod shop, it's actually for two, two special Helios rods and the booby prize, a day of fishing with me and one of our local guys on some local rivers. And hopefully, if you [00:21:30] go to the test cast sweepstakes, you won't end up in the same situation as Nick.
Here's an email from Aristide. I have two questions for you. The first one is about the regulations concerning certain species like rainbow trout during the spring that are close to fishing when spawning or that we are asked not to target. But some species like steelhead salmon or shad, for example, are mostly targeted when spawning or running up rivers for the same reason. [00:22:00] It doesn't seem to bother anybody, but it makes me uncomfortable. What do you think about fishing for these specific fish?
My second question concerns a trip I'll be doing with my father for all the month of May starting in Quebec all the way to Alaska. We'll be driving around 4,000 miles and we'll be passing a lot of rivers with no fishing pressure. I will know what types of fish are present in the different areas and I'll try to reach the local fly fishing shops, but a big part of the road will be very rural. I'd like to [00:22:30] know what would be your approach when trying to fish a stream with no information on it and no rising fish. Thanks for your answer and for your podcast. It's really educational and accessible for a French-speaking beginner like me.
So, Aristide, to answer your first question, you know, if fish are thinking about spawning or maybe in the process of spawning for a great length of time, you know, [00:23:00] some of the species start to migrate and start to think about spawning, start to get aggressive months before they are actually in the act of spawning. And where you're not allowed to fish, it's when and where the fish are actually in the process of spawning. And it's probably biologically not [00:23:30] that damaging even to fish over spawning fish, but it's just not something we do. You know, we like to leave them alone.
But as far as a fish in the act of migrating to the spawning grounds, yeah, it's really no different than targeting a fish that's feeding at a different time a year. They're just going about their life. And, you know, we try to [00:24:00] leave them alone when they're actually in the act of spawning. But again, I don't think you're going to be damaging a population or hurting a fish or preventing it from spawning just by catching it and releasing it when it's on its spawning run. It's my opinion.
Anyways, regarding your second question, here's what I would do. Not the end-all be-all answer, but this is what I would do. [00:24:30] If I think there are trout or grayling in the river, and you said you'll probably know what species of fish are there, I would fish with a dry dropper, at least to start. You have a dry fly out there that you can see and maybe the fish will respond to and then you will have a nymph hanging from the dry fly so that if the fish are feeding subsurface, you might be able to catch them on that.
However, if there are any other species in the area, let's say [00:25:00] pike or walleye or even lake trout, you know, bigger trout, then I would try a streamer. You can cover a lot of water with a streamer. You can often at least guess the presence of fish because you might get fish to make a flash or a pass at your streamer. You could even try a smaller streamer in a trout or a grayling stream. That's what I would do. Other than [00:25:30] that, that's the pleasure and the joy of fishing. You're going to have to experiment with your retrieves and what kind of water you fish to see if you can figure out where the fish are living and feeding.
Here's an email from Marius from Norway. I stumbled upon this podcast by chance as it came as a suggestion in Apple Podcasts, probably because I had been working my way through the fabulous videos on YouTube on the Orvis channel. Tom, Pete, and the others at Orvis [00:26:00] have made some wonderfully produced educational videos on fly fishing, but I'm playing catch up. I have been bouncing back and forth between podcasts, so this may have been answered already in recent episodes if this is the right address for a question. And it is, by the way.
Early in 2022, you, Mr. Rosenbauer, were asked if you preferred the Helios D or F. For trout, the answer was F, for sole, D. Given the new 4 series and its advances, is your answer the same for [00:26:30] trout, thinking 4-6 weight rods, dries, nymphs, light streamers? I am heading stateside this summer and will be stopping by an Orvis store in Minneapolis to test cast the two rods. I have never cast an Orvis rod as they are not too common here in Norway. I may walk out with a new rod before heading west to Montana for 10 days of fishing and hiking. Thank you for this excellent podcast and all the best.
So Marius, yeah, I still prefer the F [00:27:00] for trout fishing. I like a little bit slower rod. I think it's a little bit more versatile. The F series is going to be slightly more delicate, slightly better at really short casts. And the D version is going to be better with wind, with throwing big flies, with throwing longer casts. But that is really just my personal preference. Luckily, you're going to go and test cast those rods [00:27:30] because you may come up with a totally different idea than me. And I have a lot of friends who prefer the D version for trout. So I guess it depends on your casting style and what you're going to be doing and just your own personal preference. So I'd advise all of you to try take something like a 905 and cast the D and cast the F and see which [00:28:00] feels better to you, see which one speaks to you, which one you're more comfortable with.
Here's an email from Brady. Here in my home state, we have a small stream that has probably less than 50 trout in the public fishing section. You're probably thinking, "Why even fish there?" Regardless of fishing a nymph or dry, you unavoidably catch shiners. I'm not asking you what you would do or what's ethical, but I want to know if a [00:28:30] person started to dispose of these shiners, would it help the trout population?
Now Brady, the answer is no, it wouldn't. In fact, it really wouldn't do...the few shiners that you're going to throw up on the bank or whatever aren't going to do any harm or any good. But know that trout eat shiners, and for those trout to get big, you may want to [00:29:00] keep the shiners in the river. And, you know, just killing a fish or disposing it because you don't like it in the rivers, you didn't want me to answer any ethical questions. So maybe I'll still say it. It's silly and wasteful to kill a fish unless it's an invasive that you want to get out of there. But those shiners may be doing some good for the trout population. And they don't compete. [00:29:30] They don't compete with trout. They eat smaller stuff and different things. So even though you're catching them on a fly, I don't think they're going to out-compete the trout.
Here's an email from Andrew. I just wanted to thank you for answering my question last year about short-rod Euro-nymphing for brook trout. I finally decided this year to spend the early season bringing only nymphs and using only a long mono leader to tight line with my 7.5-foot 3-weight Clearwater. [00:30:00] I had great success on some of my local streams by jigging a micro woolly bugger with a hot spot. Super easy to tie, literally a hook, bead, chenille and marabou.
I appreciate your response last year because it helped me to lengthen my fishing season through the winter and challenge me to actually try something other than dries on these small streams. I've got one question in the same vein regarding smallmouth bass this time. I'm looking to lengthen the bass season here in Northern Virginia so I can get off the trout streams [00:30:30] when they become really pressured. I've got a 9-foot 7-weight rod and aggressively tapered floating line. I typically throw game changers and bass poppers in the late spring and summer, but I was wondering about early-season dredging using crayfish and hellgramite patterns. Since I don't have a boat and typically do walkway trips on local rivers, do you think it'd be useful to try a larger weighted size two dumbbell eyes, craw, bug style fly under a larger indicator, like a scaled up, [00:31:00] pun intended, version of trout nymphing? What size indicator would you use? I was considering either 3/4-inch or 1-inch airlocks.
Well, Andrew, I think that's a great idea. And I think it would work really well early season smallmouth because they're not inclined to...when the water is cold, they're they're not very active and they're not inclined to chase anything. But if you put a crayfish or a hellgramite in front of them, they're probably going to scarf it down. So I think it's a great idea. [00:31:30] And, you know, whether you use 3/4 or 1-inch airlocks, I don't know, I'd try both of them, see which one works. You want the indicator to be buoyant enough to hold that fly up in the water column. But you don't want it to be too buoyant because then you may miss some strikes and it'll be tougher to cast the bigger ones. So I would just take [00:32:00] both of them and try them with the size fly you're using and then see which one works the best. But I think it's a great idea and I think it'll work very well.
The one thing I'd suggest is that unlike trout fishing, where you're going to dead drift that crayfish or hellgramite, I would occasionally mend enough so that the indicator moves and makes the fly twitch and maybe rise up in the water column a little bit because movement does [00:32:30] attract a smallmouth quite well. So, you know, I wouldn't worry about getting a perfectly drag-free float and I would occasionally twitch it a little bit as it's floating down through these deep pools.
Here's an email from Charlie. Hi, Tom. I live in Long Island and my goal is to one day catch a striped bass using a fly rod. I currently use an eight-weight rod with a fly line that has a heavier section in the front to [00:33:00] allow longer casts. This front section also sinks in water at an intermediate rate. This setup was recommended to me for catching striped bass and perch in San Francisco Bay when I used to live out there.
My question is about terminology. Am I using a sinking tip, a shooting head, or both? Are these the same thing? Can you have a shooting head that floats, and conversely, a sinking tip that isn't a shooting head? I hear these terms tossed around and I have never fully understood the relationship between [00:33:30] them. Well, that's a good question, Charlie. Let me answer these one at a time.
So if your line has a relatively gradual taper between the intermediate sinking part and imagine it's a floating part, then it's going to be considered a sinking tip. Shooting [00:34:00] heads used to be where you would interconnect, either it could be a sinking or floating or an intermediate head to a running line with a loop-to-loop connection. And those were immediately apparent because you had a junction, you had a joint and there were the loop-to-loop connections joined, and they were very heavily weighted in the forward end so that you could shoot a lot of line.
But there are [00:34:30] now integral shooting heads that don't have the knot in between them. They're made that way without any loops or any connections. But a shooting head is generally considered one that is really, really heavy up front and then has a very thin running line behind it. And a sinking tip is basically just a fly line, a basic fly line could be weighed forward, [00:35:00] could even be double taper, but a sinking tip line is one where it tapers a lot more gradually. I hope that that was helpful in letting you know which is which. And you can find some...maybe look for some diagrams on the web because there's diagrams that will show the difference in the tapers between these things. And then if you look at the line that you have, you can tell if [00:35:30] it's just a sinking tip or possibly an integral shooting head.
Here's a helpful email from a listener who works for a chemical company and has some interesting things to say about insect repellents. I'm a relatively new fly fisherman having been dragged into the sport pretty willingly by my teenage daughter. I enjoy the podcast and learn a lot. Thanks. [00:36:00] I heard a reference on the show the other day to the insect repellent DEET and its potential to degrade lines. In my younger and thinner days before fly fishing, I was a pretty avid rock climber and mountaineer.
Climbers avoid DEET as well as it can degrade rope slings and other safety gear. It's true that nylon and vinyl are both dissolved by DEET. Spandex too, but I don't have any of that in my wardrobe or gear closet. In the past job, I was once tasked with evaluating available [00:36:30] repellents on the market for both safety and efficacy. The only repellents that are at all comparable in their efficacy to DEET repellents are those containing picaridin. This is pretty common in the marketplace and easily found on Amazon and at outdoor retailers. It's a good alternative to DEET when working with fly lines and climbing ropes.
On the safety front, it's important to follow the label directions for any product to use. More isn't necessarily better. There's always going to be a portion [00:37:00] of the population with a sensitivity, but once used with some common sense, DEET and picaridin are both pretty safe. The efficacy of repellents other than DEET and picaridin is pretty limited. Some folks swear by repellents containing citronella, lemongrass, geraniol, and other botanicals. If it works for you, great. You can disregard what I'm saying. However, the weight of evidence in the studies I reviewed strongly suggests that the efficacy of these alternative products is [00:37:30] pretty limited.
And yeah, I would agree with you on that. My wife and my kid are always using the botanical insect repellents, and they're always complaining about bugs, and they don't seem to do that much good. For some of you, they may work. And I don't usually use insect repellents at all, but when I do, if I'm going to Labrador or Alaska or someplace, I'm going to use something [00:38:00] with picaridin because I agree that it's a much more effective repellent in my experience.
Kelly: Hi, Tom. My name is Kelly. I'm from Colorado. I was just listening to one of your older podcasts about fly line, and I have a question. I do lots of nymphing. I fish with a tapered leader, and I use a strike indicator, [00:38:30] and I put weight on my line. And I was just curious as to which would be better to do, the tapered fly line like I use, or the weight-forward fly line in order to move that strike indicator and the weight and the nymphs? I love your podcast. Keep up the good work. Hope to hear from you. Thanks. Bye.
Tom: Well, Kelly, [00:39:00] with that rig you're using, if you are casting 35 feet and shorter, it doesn't matter whether you use a weight forward or double taper because the tapers are almost exactly the same for the first 35 feet. However, when you get beyond that, they do differ. Double taper doesn't thin down. It stays thick until it gets to the taper at the far end of the line, which you're never going to get to when you're casting. [00:39:30] But they are nice because you can reverse the line and then use the other end of it when one end of the line gets worn.
Weight forward lines taper down pretty quickly into a shooting line. And weight-forward lines are designed to not really have more than 35 feet of line beyond the tip of the rod. The rest of the line, you're going to have to shoot because once you get that thinner running line beyond the tip of the rod, [00:40:00] your casting is going to hinge. So if you're a caster that likes to shoot a lot of line, then that'll work for you. However, if you're a caster who likes to hold more line in the air and then drop it to the water without shooting a lot of line, then a double taper is probably going to work better for you.
Now, I find that also a double taper line with that heavier [00:40:30] line on the water is easier to mend. It's really difficult with a long cast to mend weight forward line. It's just so thin that's not as easy to mend. So a double taper line is going to mend better. And if you're fishing with an indicator and shot and nymph, you're probably doing a lot of mending. So I would think the double taper, if you're casting fishing beyond 35 feet, I think the double [00:41:00] taper is actually going to be a better line for you. All right. That is the Fly Box for this week. Lots of good tips from listeners. Let's go and talk to Scott about getting our balance better on trout streams. Well, my guest today is Dr. Scott Ducharme. And Scott is an Assistant Professor of Motor Control and Learning [00:41:30] at Long Beach University and also a serious fly fisher. Right, Scott?
Dr. Ducharme: That's right.
Tom: Welcome to the podcast.
Dr. Ducharme: Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Tom: Well, I appreciate you coming on. And we had connected somehow. Oh, yeah. You've been talking a little bit with our casting instructors about some new research into casting mechanics. And unfortunately, we're not going to talk about that today [00:42:00] because you're still working on that, right?
Dr. Ducharme: Yeah. Hopefully, we'll be able to get that research disseminated out very soon. Right now, it's kind of in the infancy stage of pilot testing. And yeah, I had some great conversations with some some Orvis cast instructors just giving some ideas for how they teach beginners. And what I ultimately want to do is get to a point where we can really break down and dissect the fly cast and [00:42:30] see how it's different between a beginner and an expert so that maybe it can help with teaching the beginners what to do or what not to do. But yeah, we still have a little ways to go before we can kind of expand beyond that.
Tom: Yeah. So, it's top secret for now.
Dr. Ducharme: Yeah.
Tom: Okay. But we do have a topic that I think will be of interest to my listeners because whenever I do a podcast on wading safety for [00:43:00] whatever aspect of wading, it really resonates with people. And I get a lot of emails about it and a lot of response on it. So we're going to pursue that a little bit further and talk about a balance and preventing falls and then things that you can do to improve your balance. And it's not just for us old guys. Younger anglers in their 30s still talk about [00:43:30] not having as good a balance as they wish they had or maybe they had when they were in their late teens. So I think it'll be beneficial for nearly anybody that's listening to the podcast.
Dr. Ducharme: Yeah, I agree. I mean, like you said, older adults probably need to be even more focused on making sure that their balance is up to par. But that doesn't mean that [00:44:00] anybody can't improve their balance. I'll talk a little bit about it, but what's great about balance is you can improve it really rapidly, but it's kind of a double-edged sword because you also can lose any sort of improvements in balance if you don't do balance training for a certain amount of time. So it's kind of a use-it or lose-it type of thing.
Tom: Okay, good. Okay. So let's go ahead. Why don't you start talking about balance and wading and take it from there?
Dr. Ducharme: [00:44:30] Yeah. So just in thinking of different ideas of what to talk about, I was thinking from the perspective of, you know, you're wading in a river. But it also could be applicable too if you're standing on a boat that's obviously, you know, rocking and moving as well as if you are surf fly fishing. So something that I've been doing the past five years is surf fly fishing because just based on my location, I'm in Southern California, I have access to the Pacific Ocean. You know, it's just a few minutes away, whereas trout rivers [00:45:00] or nice rivers are hours away. So I mostly do surf fly fishing, and so understanding that environment as well. But a lot of what I have to say really is more universal that it works in any given scenario, just kind of have to change some of the parameters a little bit.
Tom: Yeah, and just for walking along the bank of a lake or a river, you know, some of the falls that people take are more dangerous when they're out of the water than when they're in the water.
Dr. Ducharme: Yeah, that's [00:45:30] right. Because people are out of the water, they're not expecting to be in the water, right? I think if you're going for a swim or surfing or whatever it is, you're already expecting to be in the water. But if you're just nearby and a big wave comes in and takes out your feet, that can be pretty scary. The waves don't stop coming too, right? They keep on hitting the shore.
So what I thought I would do is talk kind of two components today, if that's okay, my thought was to talk [00:46:00] a little bit about things you can do while you're fishing, whether you're out on the river or maybe you're on your way to the river or you're heading to the beach or you're headed to a lake. And then the second part could be some different exercises that you could do when you're not fishing that might help you just improve your balance and stability so that when you are out there fishing, you'll have know, just better fall prevention abilities.
Tom: Perfect. Perfect. Sounds good.
Dr. Ducharme: Okay. So [00:46:30] to begin with, and we'll talk about what can you do while you're on the water. The first bit is maybe self explanatory, but I don't know, to me, it's still important to remember. Be aware of your environment. And so, you know, situational awareness of your environment and be cautious. So, you know, when you get to the river, just know, just look around and have an idea, like, is the water flow different than it was the last time you were here, or is different than normal? [00:47:00] I went to grad school in western Massachusetts, and I would fish the Swift River. And that would be sometimes you'd see 50 cubic feet per second working its way down, and sometimes it'd be over 1,000. Really big differences where places you would expect to be able to stand comfortably are not going to be available. So just, you know, taking inventory of that.
And I say be cautious. And it's actually the opposite advice I would give if you were [00:47:30] not necessarily fishing. So if you're just out walking around, cautious gate or fear of falling is a bad thing. It's actually something that correlates with fall risk. So the more worried you are about falling, the more likely you are to actually fall. So you want to avoid that way of thinking just out and about.
But when you're on the water, you should at least consider being, you know, cautious about what you're trying to do. If you're in too deep of water [00:48:00] and the current's a little stronger than you're used to, there's no reason to push it. I mean, I guess you can. It's really up to you. You think about the risk versus the reward. But generally speaking, what I say is, you know, you want to have your feet wide, you know, wide base of support. That's going to give you much more stability. And most people will naturally do this, but you'll ideally want to be perpendicular to the current just because you've got a lot more stability side to side than you do front to back.
And [00:48:30] another thing you can do is stand staggered. So that'll give you a little bit of side to side stability as well as front to back. Most people will naturally kind of face towards the river anyway. And this doesn't necessarily matter if the flow is know, there's not a strong current, or if you're just not really in very deep water. But as you get deeper and as the current gets stronger, you need to just be much more aware of how stable you are at that moment.
And I would also say when you are [00:49:00] moving, so you're at a spot, you fish for a while, and now you want to move to a new spot, you know, move slowly and very purposefully. I would even say, as you're stepping, you can take small steps. When you step, maybe keep the weight back on the leg that's back while the front leg sort of just feels out what are you stepping onto? What you really don't want to end up is you move quickly and you hit a rock that you weren't expecting and you get a little bit of a stumble. It's really hard to recover because, you know, the water slows down the [00:49:30] speed that you can move your your leg. So just taking it slow.
Also, by taking it slow, you'll realize that a rock is really slippery or some part of the floor, you know, the riverbed is slippery so that maybe you can either avoid that or just take it slower. I think sometimes we're in a rush. We fished a spot and now we want to go to the next one, so we just try to move as quick as possible. That's where a lot of issues occur. I certainly am guilty of that. I've done that plenty of times. So yeah, I think [00:50:00] moving in a very purposeful way so that you know what you're in for. You're not surprised by bumping into a rock or some sort of slippery surface.
Tom: So that's why it's easier to stumble when you're say waist-deep, is because you can't regain your balance because you don't have the quickness to regain your balance in the water?
Dr. Ducharme: Yeah, exactly. And so, to compare it to out of the water, older adults, one of the reasons that they will fall [00:50:30] instead of... So they if they get tripped, whether they trip on, you know, whatever it is, a root or a part of the sidewalk, what you need to do is get your leg out in front of you pretty quickly. And they don't necessarily have a problem with generating the force to get, you know, to your leg muscles to move your leg, but it's the power, it's the speed at which you need to generate that force to get your leg in front of you quickly before you fall. And that's just really, you know, exaggerated when you're in the water because, you know, [00:51:00] if you take a bit of a stumble, it's really hard to move your leg forward. And, you know, with waders, you're even more restricted, you're trying to get your leg into a new location and it's being slowed down by this medium of water. So that's where these shorter steps are definitely going to help out quite a bit.
And the same could go for, I mentioned if you're on a boat, if it's choppy water, be aware of that, be on the [00:51:30] lookout for anything that might affect your balance, that it might throw you off. If you're going to the ocean, you probably already know about what the tide is doing, you know, usually trying to catch an outgoing tide. But also, you don't know what are the swells, and is there some sort of storm surge, or, you know, what part of the beach are you at? Is it a really steep beach location that gets...that the water's coming into and it's a little more [00:52:00] dangerous? So again, just awareness in that sense.
And then the second part of that is to really know yourself and your abilities. So if you haven't already, and I mean, we all do this to some extent, but really take an inventory of your physical abilities and give yourself an honest assessment. And if that assessment hasn't been done for a while, then maybe you know, you need an updated way to just see [00:52:30] what you really are able to do. We see it all the time. And, you know, there's no shortage of videos on the internet of people who are trying to do something that they could have easily done maybe in high school. And maybe that was 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 years ago and they don't quite have the same abilities, physical abilities that they might have had at the time.
I would just say, think of it in terms of how is your balance? How strong are you? [00:53:00] How might you handle falling in the water? I think that's a good way to think of it. Because for some people, they could think, "Well, if I fell in the water, no problem. I've got upper body strength to push myself up. And then I've got leg strength, I can get right back up." No problem. Other people, that might be terrifying to think, "Oh, man, if I'm in two feet of water, and I have to try to pull myself out, I've got all this gear on my back." And that could be stressful, that could be really scary. And so I think knowing where you are on that spectrum of are you really comfortable, [00:53:30] or would you really freak out? I think that really helps you when making decisions about where are you trying to get on the river? And is it worth it?
And I think about there's a small river that I used to fish a lot in Western Massachusetts. And there was this one spot that you had to cross over to get to this nice bank. And I did it once and I caught a nice little rainbow. And then on the way back to cross [00:54:00] back over, it was kind of sketchy, kind of scary. And I thought to myself, "I guess it was worth it because I caught something." And I ended up crossing it, you know, I think two or three more times.
But every time I did, I thought to myself, "It's actually not really worth it to hopefully catch one fish and take a risk of going under." And my phone would know, it'd probably break my phone. I don't know if I'd be worried about drowning. There's a lot of risk related to the reward. So I think it's just thinking it through [00:54:30] of the whole reason we're out here is to have a good time. So if you need to put yourself in potential danger to try to get to a spot to catch a fish, maybe it's not exactly worth it.
Tom: Scott, is there a good way to kind of assess your ability to wade before you go on a trip or before you get in the water? You said to kind of assess your physical limitations or something that you would suggest that someone does to try to assess that?
Dr. Ducharme: [00:55:00] Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, there's definitely balance tests or physical function tests that will give you an idea of where you stand if you're at a critical threshold where it really puts you at higher risk of falling. The challenge with some of these tests is they're going to be easy for most people up until I would say if you're somewhat active and you're under the age of maybe 70, you're probably going to [00:55:30] maximize and max out in terms of getting all the points available. It's not really until you start getting to a point where you have a disability or you're just advanced age or you're extremely sedentary that you're going to see some issues.
Some of the things I use is the short physical performance battery test. It's five different quantifying tests. SPPB is the acronym. But it's a few balance tests and it's a walking test and then it's a chair stand. And a chair [00:56:00] stand is actually a good one to think about in terms of can you stand up from a chair without using your hands, without using your arms? And so, if you can do that easily, you're already kind're past the point where it really would show concern.
But then the next question is, can you do it five times in a row? And I can't remember the exact time. I think it's around 12 seconds or so. Can you stand up and sit down and stand up and sit down fast [00:56:30] enough to be able...? So just kind of as an indicator of that you have not only the muscle strength, but the ability to generate that strength quickly.
From a balance perspective, I mean, usually one way you can quickly tell is just stand on one leg. And I don't really have specifics in terms of how long you should be able to stand on one leg, but most of the time if you tell someone, "Okay, just stand on one leg, don't let your legs touch, right? Just stay on the one [00:57:00] leg and see how long you can do it for," you'll notice some people can do that for about three or four seconds before they lose their balance. And so if that's you, I would say you could definitely benefit from some balance training. If you can hold on for 10, 15, maybe even 20 seconds, then you probably actually have pretty good balance. And look on both sides because your legs are going to be...there's going to be an asymmetry oftentimes in terms of your balance. Most often it's going to be...
[00:57:30] So if you're right-handed, your left leg is usually going to be better for balance. And your right leg is kind of the power leg that you would push off. So if you think about throwing a baseball, you would push off your right leg, but then you would step onto your left leg and sort of balance on your left leg. So people are often surprised that, "Oh, my left leg's actually better than my right. That's weird." But you need to be able to have balance on both sides. And so I think that's probably the easiest is just thinking of it. Can you stand on one leg?
And [00:58:00] I'll talk a little bit about when we get into the exercises, but that's some of what I was going to mention in terms of just some easy little drills, is standing on one leg, doing little, really small one-legged squats, one inch down, one inch back up. Can you do those types of movements and maintain your balance? I don't know if that's... It's probably not... It's a good question, actually, and I wish I had more specifics as to a real quick assessment of, hey, if you can do this, then don't worry about it. [00:58:30] Whereas if you can't, then you should probably really get your balance training going before getting on the water.
Tom: Well, you gave us a couple. I mean, you gave us the chair thing and the standing on one leg, and that's something that people can try to get a rough idea of the condition they're in.
Dr. Ducharme: Yeah. And then I think of it too of just... That's where I go back to, like, if you could imagine yourself, you're in the water and you fall, and you have to get yourself up. [00:59:00] I think that if you're giving yourself an honest assessment, I think you will be able to go, "Oh, man, that sounds scary. I haven't done a push-up in 20 years," and thinking about how hard would it be to pick your body up off the ground, especially if you're in water, which makes it more challenging. Or if you say, "Oh, yeah, I could totally do that. That's easy. I get down on the ground all the time and I can get back up," I think that would just help you understand.
And again, it's all relative to you and it's all relative to what you're trying to [00:59:30] do. Depending on the river you're in, you might not even need to be taking chances. It might be really shallow and you don't have to worry. But certainly the ones that get the deeper pools that you're trying to get as far as you can so you can cast to the other side of a nice pool because there's a rock over there and you see a nice little run, that's when you have to just be aware of if things go south or how are you going to feel.
Tom: Well, it's never fun falling in the river, especially if your fishing buddy is with you and laughs at [01:00:00] you, even in shallow water. And you can actually get hurt worse in shallow water if you hit your head on a rock or something. So it's important at all water levels, I think.
Dr. Ducharme: That's true. That's a good point too. You kind of have... There's pros and cons to any depth. But like you said, shallow water, that's where you can really hit something. There's rocks and it's certainly not a padded surface as you get shallower. So that's something to also be aware of. And I think that's also sometimes [01:00:30] when people do get into trouble is when you think you're kind of in the clear, you've moved away from the three-foot water to the two to the one and now you're just kind of kicking out, and that's when you bump into something or you slip on something slippery. And the same could go even for once you're done fishing and you're walking back to your car and you're just not're maybe a little tired, you're not paying attention and you hit a rock or something on your way out. So it's definitely awareness, again, continued awareness [01:01:00] of your environment.
Tom: All right. So let's talk about some ways that people can work on and improve their balance.
Dr. Ducharme: Yeah. So basically, generally speaking, physical activity, habitual physical activity is really important when it comes to fall risk, as well as just overall health, overall physical abilities. [01:01:30] The more physical activity you do, the greater volume, the higher the intensity, the more modalities or different types of exercises that you do, the better off you're going to be.
So a lot of my research that I've done over the past few years has provided evidence that if you account for physical activity, a lot of the age-related changes that we see in different gait measures actually they're eliminated. So you might [01:02:00] say, "Well, a 40-year-old versus a 70-year-old, the 70-year-old, you're going to see greater...there's a bunch of, I don't know, step with variability." But if you account for physical activity and you are that individual that 70 is highly active, they're going to actually show a gait assessment profile that's pretty similar to a young healthy adult.
So we don't have quite enough information to say that it's all about physical activity. There's still some component of aging that's probably really important. [01:02:30] But a lot of what you see is diminishment of abilities with age could be attenuated with physical activity. So just in general, physical activity is good. Whatever you do is great.
People ask me a lot of times, "Well, I don't feel comfortable going to the gym, but I just walk. I walk like five days a week for 30 minutes." And I say, "That's great. That's fantastic. That's much better than being sedentary. The worst thing you can do is be sedentary." But if we're going to talk about [01:03:00] optimizing things to try to really... You know, if you came to me and said, "Hey, I really don't want to fall." If you've known anybody who's taken a fall, you see that there's a lot of negative impact to it, not only physical, but getting to the mental and emotional component where you then are afraid of falling again in the future. So trying to avoid a fall in general is going to be the best case scenario.
And so what the research really shows is a [01:03:30] multimodal approach is going to be the best. And so it's just kind of a fancy way of saying a lot of different types of exercise together into one exercise routine is going to be the best. It doesn't have to be all at the same time. You can do different types on different days. But generally speaking, you want to do strength training, you want to do balance training, and you want to do some type of cardiovascular exercise. And out of those three, the most important is going to [01:04:00] be strength training and balance training. I don't know which of those two is the most important for fall risk or fall reduction, but definitely those two are going to be really important.
Cardiovascular training is certainly really beneficial in a lot of different ways. But just in terms of fall risk, it's strength training and balance training. And so for strength training, as I mentioned, standing from a chair without using your arms is an indication that you [01:04:30] have the leg strength to be able to pick up your body weight. And so when you're thinking of different types of exercises you can do, you could even do that exercise. You can sit down in a chair and stand up. But basically any type of thing that works your legs, squats, lunges, you can do a leg press if you have access to a gym. I'm a little hesitant to give specifics because it's hard to tell someone to go do lunges without being in front of them and sort of correcting their form and making sure that they're doing it right.
[01:05:00] And I would really suggest that if you are interested, you should hopefully find a fitness expert or personal trainer that can help you learn just how to do some of these basic things. Like I said, if you can do squats and lunges, you'd be in really good shape for your legs. You can always make it more challenging by holding dumbbells, adding some sort of weight. But those are really important things.
Total body strengthening is really important. I mentioned if you fall down, you do need your arms and [01:05:30] you need chest to be able to push yourself, your upper body off the floor. You do need the upper body as well, but the legs are really the most important thing, I would say. So for balance training, like I said, it's really exciting because if you did this two or three times a week, even if you did 10 minutes, two or three times a week, you're going to notice an improvement in probably two weeks. And that's really [01:06:00] motivating, right? So you think, "Wow, this is really nice."
And I think the reason why it happened so quickly is that a lot of balance training is getting the nervous system calibrated in a way that it's sending the signals to the right muscles at the right time to maintain your balance. Whereas other types of exercise, like strength training, if you need to increase the size of your muscle, it's called hypertrophy, that could take a long time. That could take four to six weeks, eight weeks, [01:06:30] or even longer. And it also requires that you continue to do that for that amount of time. Whereas balance training, you do it a little bit here and there and next thing you know, you're much better than you were. So it's motivating in that sense.
I thought I might go through a bit of a progression, just assuming that the audience could be anywhere from having very, very low balance to being a 16-year-old athlete. So [01:07:00] my thought is the beginning, you want to work to modify your base of support when you're doing balance. So the first thing you could do is just, can you stand with your feet hip width apart and just stand and not move? If you can do that, which a lot of people can, but you always have to start at the beginning, so if you can do that, that's great.
The next thing you would want to do is try to stand with your feet touching. So if you can do that, and it's really easy, you say, "Okay, I'm going to move on to the next one." And if it's not easy, that's totally fine. That's where you begin. Stand with your [01:07:30] feet touching and hold it for 30 seconds. The next thing you do is what we call a semi-tandem stance. So you would have one foot stays back and then the other foot, the heel is going to line up with your back foot. So the front foot's heel is going to line up with the back foot's toe. So you're going to be in sort of a staggered stance, but still you're going to be touching, for example, your left foot's back, so your left toe with your right heel. And so if you [01:08:00] can do that, then again, that's good. So we're still manipulating the base of support. We're making it more narrow, making it more challenging to hold on to the medial lateral stability. And so that's the next step if you can do that.
Tom: So in this third one, you're actually touching your rear toe with your front heel?
Dr. Ducharme: Yeah, exactly.
Tom: And they're both facing forward, I assume, square to your body.
Dr. Ducharme: Yeah, they're both facing [01:08:30] forward and they're both...they're not quite in the same alignment though. So if you imagine like if there was a line on the ground, you'd have one on one side and one on the other side. So they're offset by basically the width of your foot.
Tom: Okay, got it. Okay. And you should hold that, try to hold that for 30 seconds?
Dr. Ducharme: If you can hold that for 30 seconds, you're great. If you can hold it for 30 seconds, but it's really challenging, where your arms are flailing around and your [01:09:00] hips are moving really big, large motion. And you probably could keep working on that a little bit more. You know, what we're looking for is you think of it as like proficiency of if I can get my...if I get into this semi-tandem stance, I can even have my arms at my side, or I can even cross my arms across my chest and it's no problem. I can do it for a minute. And you're okay, then you're good. You can move on to the next one. And for that, you also want to make sure you have not only the...if the left foot's in the [01:09:30] back, then try it also with the left foot in the front, because one's going to be easier than the other.
So the next thing is to do a tandem stance. So that's where you have your feet in line with each other. So you're going to have, again, going back to the example of your, of your left foot, if your left foot is back, your right foot's heel is touching your left foot's toe, but in line. So if there was a line on the ground, both of your feet would be right on that line, right down the middle of it. [01:10:00] So that's where you really minimize your left to right base of support.
Tom: So, that line would be straight out from your belly button, instead of off to the side that one of your foot is at?
Dr. Ducharme: Yeah. The line would be right in the middle because if you have it off to any side, you're going to immediately start to kilter off balance and have to move a foot basically to fix [01:10:30] it. So you'll notice, right, as soon as you try to get into that position, you're going to have to kind of line everything up right down the middle or else it just starts to lean and tilt.
Tom: Okay. You know, it's a little tougher here on without visuals, but how is this different than the previous one?
Dr. Ducharme: So the previous one, you had your feet that were not on the same line. So they're actually...they were staggered out a bit. So your right [01:11:00] heel was parallel to your left toes.
Tom: Oh, okay. So it's not in line with it. It's parallel to it, but it's lined up with your toe.
Dr. Ducharme: Yeah. Yeah. So they're both facing the same way, but they are still staggered side to side, you know, the width of your toe.
Tom: And the next one, they're actually touching.
Dr. Ducharme: Yeah. Well, [01:11:30] they're touching both ways, but the difference is in the semi-tandem stance, it's like, if your right foot is in front, it's the back left part of your right foot and the upper right part of your left foot are touching. So they're kind of kitty cornered each other in terms of they're touching, but they're not in one line if that makes sense. I know things are so much easier when they're in person or on a [01:12:00] video.
Tom: I just wanted to make sure that we get it clear because people can't see the visuals.
Dr. Ducharme: So the way I would think of it is if you're standing with your feet lined up, right, you got your toes lined up and your heels lined up, everything's lined up and you say, "Okay, now just slide one foot forward a little bit," that would be semi-tandem, that's semi-tandem. So then when you go to tandem stance, you got to move that foot all the way up and over so that it's lined up in the same line.
Tom: Yeah. Okay. Got it. Got it.
Dr. Ducharme: [01:12:30] So those are the different two-legged variations you can do to see how is everything. The next thing you really want to get to, and this is probably the most challenging, but the most important stuff is really getting to the one leg stuff. So we talked about it a little bit already, but to begin with, you stand on one leg and you just try to stand and try to maintain your balance. And again, the important thing here is that you don't let your legs touch.
[01:13:00] If you just have someone stand on their leg, what you'll notice is they'll bring their knees together. And what's happening there is our bodies are very good at compensating and knowing how to perform an action, even if we don't have all the musculature that's really set up for it. And so if you bring your legs together, you're taking away a lot of the inner thigh and an inner part of the quad muscle, the vastus medialis that's going to be needed to help maintain balance. So you stand, [01:13:30] you bring your leg up off the ground and you just keep your knees from touching, your legs from touching.
If you can do that, that's really great. That is really tough to do. If you don't do any balance training, you probably won't be able to do that for 10 seconds without hopping and making these really grand gestures, right? If you can do that different ways to modify it is you could stand with a leg that's off the ground, just kind of straightforward, kind of point it forward and then [01:14:00] you can bring it out to the side. So you'd move it away from your body and then you can move it back kind of behind your body.
So what you're doing there is just moving, you know, your center of mass around and just forcing the muscles of your ankles and your knees and your hips to figure out how to maintain that balance. So, yeah, if you can do those for 10 or 15 seconds, you could probably move on to the next one. Well, I just say, yeah, you can definitely move on to the next one. But just be aware that as you progress, if you don't [01:14:30] really have one down and it's hard to get to the next level because you're kind're just adding another challenge to it.
But the next one, which I think is really the most important one because it not only incorporates balance, but it also will get a lot of strength training going into it. So same idea, you're standing on one leg, your feet are not touching, your legs are not touching, and you just bend your knee so that your upper torso drops down one inch and then you bring yourself back up. So you're just doing this [01:15:00] little mini squat and it's amazing how that one inch, you're going to notice all kinds of activation of your quad muscles, hopefully your hamstring muscles, you're going to feel it at your ankles. It's much harder than you think it should be. It should be really not so bad, but it can be challenging. So just squat down. Whether you're looking at an object and you just see that when you drop down, your eyes went down one inch and then straighten back up.
Tom: I'm trying not to [01:15:30] get out of my chair here and do these because it'll make too much noise.
Dr. Ducharme: You'll have a chance. And I'm telling you, you're going to'd be amazed when you get up and you try it and you go, "Wow, that would be no problem. It's only one inch." But then you go, "Well, actually it is more challenging than you realize." I would say if you can do that 8 or 10 times, you're good. And if you do two or three, and then you have to put your foot down, that's okay. You can get back to it and do it again.
And ultimately, [01:16:00] you want to get to the point where you can do, 8 or 10 or even 15 in a row, but starting out, you can just kind of get the summation of it, get two or three, if you have to lose your balance and regain it, okay, and then get three or four more. Same idea with having your leg out front and then leg to the side and then like back, right? This same idea where moving, you could say the "non-working" leg to different locations will actually work different parts of your...or maybe I [01:16:30] won't say work, but it'll emphasize different parts of the leg that's on the ground that's doing the little one-inch squat. So that'll be helpful.
The progression from there is to just go even farther down. So if you can go two inches, again, you'd be amazed at how much harder it is to go from just dropping down one inch to dropping down two inches. But you'll notice really quickly that you're getting a really good strength training workout for your legs. You're going to be working really well.
[01:17:00] There's other progressions from there that you can do that are even harder to probably explain on a podcast, but there's other things you can do. You know, one thing that's really nice is, and actually I think of this in terms of when you're on the river, if you can squat down, but you're going to reach the foot that's in the air, reach out towards something. So you'd have some sort of object on the ground that's maybe two feet away.
And what [01:17:30] you're trying to do is reach out and just tap that object without actually putting weight on the leg that's sticking out. So you just kind of reaching your toe out, you tap it, you come back. So that to me is a really good skill for balance to have because if you're on the water, like I was mentioning, when you want to be cautious, as you're walking, you might just want to keep the weight back on your one leg while the other one's just doing a bit of an exploration, you know, like, are there any rocks? No. Okay. Here's a part of the river bed. It doesn't seem too [01:18:00] slippery. Okay. Now I'm going to put some weight forward and move my whole body forward. It's a nice way to have that ability to be on one leg is going to be helpful.
Tom: Now, Scott, how about...? Sometimes when I do these, because I do one-legged balances, probably not doing them right, but I do them, I know that when you close your eyes and/or when you look up, it makes these a lot harder. I mean, [01:18:30] is that helpful to do that, or does it not apply here?
Dr. Ducharme: No, Tom, you bring up a really great point. So we have three systems that allow us to balance. We've got our visual system, our vestibular system, and we have our somatosensory system, which includes our proprioception. And most of the time we've got those three systems providing the same information [01:19:00] about what our body is doing relative to the environment. And that's a great thing.
Oftentimes we're going to have situations where we don't have ideal information from all three systems. So the example you give, you know, maybe you walk into a dark room and you're trying to navigate through a dark room and your vision is no longer available. Then you have to rely on your vestibular system and your somatosensory system. And so practicing with eyes closed is actually a really great way to really, [01:19:30] again, kind of calibrate and improve the ability for you to maintain balance with those other two systems. So that is a great thing to do.
You can do the same thing with... You know, a lot of times what people do when they want to... You can't really get rid of proprioception, but you can sort of modulate it a little bit. You could, you know, stand on some sort of compliant surface. So if you're standing on a towel or some sort of a blanket or something where you don't have the same [01:20:00] firm surface that you're used to being on, that's going to require additional work from your muscles to try to maintain your balance. So that's definitely something you can do. And it's probably beneficial because you're constantly're not going to be standing on a completely flat surface when you're on a river, or definitely not when you're at the beach. Maybe on a boat you are. But yeah, so that is a great way to do it.
The other thing you can do, which I don't really recommend, [01:20:30] I don't recommend this, but you can also mess with the vestibular system by just going around in circles a few times and getting a little bit dizzy that way. It is amazing how difficult it is to... You know, have you ever seen the Disney bat, they're, like, in the baseball game and they do the Disney bat, they go around 10 times and it's really hard to stand up?
Our vestibular system is really important for our ability to maintain balance. And so, like I said, I don't recommend it unless you have someone there ready to catch you because it is [01:21:00] really challenging. But yeah, that is definitely something you can consider, is finding ways to manipulate the situation, whether it's your vision or again, your proprioception.
But the one thing I would say is those are more down the road once you've really mastered these abilities to balance on a flat surface. I see it a lot of times when you go to the gym and you'll see people trying to balance on, I don't know, a BOSU [01:21:30] ball or a Dynamax ball or an AIREX pad or something as I was mentioning how it creates a compliant surface. But for me, you've got to really be able to balance on a flat surface really well before you even consider, you know, upping the ante and making it more difficult and challenging.
Tom: Okay. How about balance boards? Are those helpful once you get the kind of the basics on a flat surface?
Dr. Ducharme: Yeah. I think once you get [01:22:00] the basics, they're going to be really helpful. It's certainly going to be, I would say there probably is some almost direct relationship to being on a boat because you've got to kind of...not that you're balancing the boat, but you are on a surface that you're trying to kind of maintain your balance on. But just in general, it is nice to have different types of balance equipment that you can work with. But like you said, it's really after you've mastered [01:22:30] just the ability to maintain balance just on that hardwood floor or on the concrete.
If anything, I would say probably the next step would be to go barefoot. You'll notice that it's very difficult. As good as you think you are at balancing, as soon as you take your shoes off, you realize you still have a lot of work to do because the shoe does provide a lot of stability and support. And I don't think it's bad to train with your shoes on because really that's what you'll be doing when you're in the water, right? [01:23:00] You've got wader boots there. So I don't think that's a bad thing at all, but it is really also really nice to be able to have the ability to balance without shoes on.
Tom: Okay. And some people wade barefoot once in a while too. Not that often.
Dr. Ducharme: When I'm at the beach, if the water is above 60 degrees, I'll usually go with...I've got these booties, these surfing booties that I use. [01:23:30] It's easier than with the waders just because of the weight of the waders can be a challenge when the waves coming in. But it still does mean that I need to be more aware of what I'm doing from a balance perspective.
So that's kind of what I had in terms of exercise and drills. The other thing, the cardiovascular, I guess I could mention just a little bit about. Cardiovascular exercises is just so good for you in so many ways. It's [01:24:00] not necessarily what's going to reduce your fall risk, but it's so good for just heart health and pulmonary health and circulation and reducing your risk of diabetes and cancer. And there's just so many reasons why you should be doing some type of cardiovascular exercise. Walking is one of the best things you can do. It's accessible. It's low-risk in terms of injury. Most people fall while walking. So you want to be good at walking. And one [01:24:30] way to do that is just to walk more. So having, you know, that experience, I guess you could say with walking is really beneficial.
Tom: And probably on uneven surfaces, right? Like walking up and down hills and rocks and things like that.
Dr. Ducharme: Yeah, exactly. The more you get exposed to challenging terrains, the better you're going to be able to navigate through those. And that even makes the flat... So, you know, when you do go to a track or something where it's just flat, that makes [01:25:00] it super easy because now you're used to going on really challenging terrains. Yeah. That's definitely a beneficial thing to expose yourself, your body to so that when you do encounter something that's, I would say unexpected, you've got experience with how to handle that.
Tom: Yeah. And I'm glad you mentioned the cardiovascular because I know there are times when... I mean, I'm in pretty good shape. And there are times when I've had to cross a big [01:25:30] river or maybe wade upstream quite a ways in a big river where I'm getting tired, I'm getting out of breath. So, you know, the cardiovascular is an important part of it.
Dr. Ducharme: Yeah. Yeah. And actually that was something I was going to mention, was when you're taking...when you're going back to what I was saying earlier with situational awareness, and then also kind of taking inventory of yourself, one thing to think about is how fatigued are you at the moment? Because if you're, you know, [01:26:00] waking, you woke up and now you walk to the river, you're good to go, that's different than if you have been walking, trudging through a river trying to cross the river or even, you know, hiking a trail to get to water where you're just overall, you have overall central fatigue that's going to reduce your ability to respond to some sort of stress or perturbation when you are exposed to it. So that does have an effect. You know, if you are going to take a chance and try to get to a tougher part of the river, [01:26:30] maybe save that for when you've got energy and you're not just exhausted at the end of the day because it will have an effect.
Tom: Yeah. And if you cross the river and then at the end of the day, you have to cross back over and make sure you got enough energy to do it.
Dr. Ducharme: That's right. Yeah, that's right. You always have to return to where you came from.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. And then we've talked quite a bit about wading staffs and so we don't need to belabor that, but you know, wading staff is so helpful with balance.
Dr. Ducharme: [01:27:00] Well, one thing I would say just to kind of put some of my terminology into that concept, you know, I've used the word base of support a few times and I don't think I actually defined it. I'm not sure that's really well understood. But the idea of base of support is it's the location of where your feet are touching the ground and then everything in between your feet. So if you're standing with your feet, shoulder width apart, that location on the ground of your feet, plus between [01:27:30] your feet is your base of support.
So your center of mass can move throughout that location. But as soon as your center of mass moves outside of that location, you begin falling and you need to move your feet to change your base of support. And if you have a staff or some sort of cane, that's actually expanding your base of support because now you can actually move your center of mass outside of where your feet are because you have another point that you can...that's [01:28:00] touching the ground. So that's expanding and improving. So that's why balance is improved in that sense. You've got a greater stance and a greater base of support.
Tom: Okay. Never thought of it that way. Yeah. Interesting.
Dr. Ducharme: One other thing I wanted to mention that I was just thinking that kind of going back to the motor behavior literature and where it might help out with anglers when you're on the water is [01:28:30] there's this idea of focus of attention, it's also called attentional focus. And basically what it comes down to is where you focus your attention while you're performing a motor skill has an effect on how well you perform the skill. So there's two kind of main types, internal and external.
So internal is if you're focusing on something related to the movement production, and usually that's what your body [01:29:00] is doing, like which muscles are activated or where are your limbs. And then external focus of attention is when you're focusing on the movement effects, so the result of what your movements have caused. So, for example, if you're kicking a soccer ball, if you want to focus on an internal cue, you would think about swinging your leg, or you'd think about extending your knee, or you'd think about keeping your core tight. Whereas an external focus, you would think about the results. [01:29:30] So you look at the goal, or you'd focus on the trajectory of the ball, or you would focus on the ball itself.
And what the research pretty consistently shows is that an external focus of attention is going to be better, not only for your motor skill performance, but also for motor learning. And the reason I bring this up is because one thing you can do to increase your posture stability and decrease your fall risk, and [01:30:00] I guess we kind of touched upon it, but this is just from more of like, I guess, a research perspective, but if you focus on an external component, then you're going to be better off. And in this case, if you're wading in the river, you focus on the surface that you're stepping on, so the bed of the river, and you put your focus on there, you're going to have better posture stability and if you focus on, you know, again, keeping your core tight or thinking about your legs or thinking about what your arms are doing.
Tom: [01:30:30] Because your body will adjust to what you want to do. Your brain will adjust to what you want to do.
Dr. Ducharme: Exactly. Your body will do what it needs to do. Or, your body will your body, but I guess your nervous system knows how to perform the action. But if you're thinking about what your body is doing, then you're kind of overriding a lot of those automatic things that are occurring. So if you focus on the external component on the result, then you actually...[01:31:00] then when you're performing that task, you're doing it better. And they actually have some really cool brain imaging studies that have shown some support for that.
So when you're focusing internally, you're getting more activation of your somatosensory cortex. And so that's the part of your brain that really gets information from your somatosensory receptors, so your skin receptors, your joint receptors, the receptors in your muscles and in your ligaments and your joints. [01:31:30] Whereas in external focus, you're getting more motor cortex activation. And so the motor cortex is what's sending the signal to the muscles of this is how we want to move, and this is what we're trying to perform.
Tom: Yeah. And, you know, I think I've noticed this myself when I'm wading. First, let's say I'm waiting a fairly difficult river. When I first step in it, I've kind of concentrating on where my feet are going and I feel a little wobbly or insecure. But I've [01:32:00] noticed as the day goes on, and it's probably because I'm now focusing on the river bottom instead of what my legs are doing, becomes easier.
Dr. Ducharme: Yeah. I think that's probably exactly what's happening. I mean, of course, part of it is just a little bit of experience with a specific environment. But I think, yeah, what often happens is we do draw attention to "ourselves," when we're first starting something. And then once we get comfortable, we can we can move our attention away from ourselves and onto the environment. [01:32:30] And you will notice that it is a is more stable to do that.
Tom: Yeah. Great. Well, that is some really good stuff. And I think everybody that's listening to this is going to go stand up and get a chair and stand on one leg and start working on their balance, because I think we can all benefit from it when we're out there in the [01:33:00] water on a boat, I think it'll help nearly anyone. So thank you, Scott, for sharing these things.
Dr. Ducharme: Yeah, no, I'm more than happy to. And I appreciate you having me on the podcast. I'm a long time listener, first-time caller, I guess you could say.
Tom: This is a long Fly Box question, right?
Dr. Ducharme: Right.
Tom: All right, Scott. Well, thank you. We've been talking to Scott Ducharme, who is Assistant [01:33:30] Professor of Motor Control and Learning at Long Beach University and a podcast listener. So thank you so much, Scott. Really appreciate it.
Dr. Ducharme: Thanks so much. I appreciate it, Tom.
Tom: And now I got to go stand on one leg.
Dr. Ducharme: Good luck.
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